Is Unpaid College Tuition Dischargeable in Bankruptcy?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a significant stretch of time, you probably already know that student loans are very challenging to discharge via chapter 7 bankruptcy. It’s been that way since the 197os when Congress began putting limits on when graduates could discharge their student loan debt.

Prior to 1976, it was possible to discharge any student loan debt via bankruptcy. However, because so many students were failing to pay back their student loans, a law was passed with the intention of protecting federal investments. Initially, the law stated that a student loan would not be eligible for discharge within five years of its conception.

Slowly, through a series of tweaks to the law over the next two decades, the five year restriction stretched to seven years. 1998 saw the time restriction completely lifted and, in 2005, an amendment to the law was written to include private student loans, making the discharge of any type of student loan virtually inconceivable.

While it isn’t completely impossible to discharge student loan debt, to do so you must be able to prove that paying back your loan(s) will cause you ‘undue hardship.’ Proving undue hardship is exceedingly difficult to do, and those who succeed typically have some kind of severe physical disability that prevents them from earning a living.

What if I owe money directly to the school? Can I discharge that type of debt?

Ah, now here’s any interesting quandary! As it turns out, students or graduates who paid their college expenses (tuition, room and board, supplies) without signing any kind of loan paperwork or promissory note, actually have a decent chance of discharging any past due payments.

The key to whether or not your particular debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy has everything to do with nuance. For example, if you at some point received a bill from your college and failed to pay it, you technically owe the college money but not in the form of a loan.

Therein lies the nuance. Unpaid college fees such as tuition are not the same as unpaid college loans wherein you borrowed money and had a written agreement in place stating that you agreed to pay that money back. Simply failing to pay your tuition bill doesn’t magically turn it into a loan.

If you owe money directly to an institution of higher education that was never in the form of borrowed money to be repaid at a later date, you should be able to include it in your bankruptcy case and have it wiped out with a successful discharge.

However, pay close attention to the wording that your college uses in the near future, as some institutions have begun to change their paperwork/billing in order to make unpaid debts look like they were actually loans. This is an attempt to conceal the fact that your debt is dischargeable if you file for bankruptcy. These practices are not above board and your bankruptcy attorney must be diligent when reviewing any documents received from the school’s billing department.

Do you have unpaid college tuition debt that you feel should be dischargeable based on the description contained in this article? Do you have student loans that are causing you a great deal of financial hardship? In either case, Veitengruber Law can help you determine the best option for you:  a chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy case, loan consolidation, forbearance, debt negotiation and more. Call now for a free one hour consultation.

Image credit: Seth Sawyers
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